The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Parties stick to quota path

New Delhi, Aug. 23: The court is angry but the government is determined.

The Centre and parties cutting across political lines today set their minds on a law they have been planning on to counter the Supreme Court’s recent order freeing unaided private educational institutions from government control.

The decision to press ahead came at a meeting this evening after the government was ticked off by the court earlier in the day for “unwanted criticism” of its order scrapping quotas in such institutions.

At the scheduled meeting, party leaders discussed legal options before them. After the meeting, human resource development minister Arjun Singh said he has been authorised to form a “small political committee” that will draft a central law to ensure “social justice” and eliminate “commercialisation of education”.

The leaders said there was consensus on the need for a law. “We all want social justice,” said CPM Lok Sabha MP Basudev Acharia.

“Reservation quota must be restored,” said Telugu Desam leader Yerran Naidu.

The overwhelming opinion is for a constitutional amendment bill to widen the scope of Article 19 of the Constitution. The article gives individuals freedom to carry on any “occupation, trade or business” but has a rider that empowers the Centre to impose “reasonable restrictions”. The Centre, sources said, might consider broadening the ambit of “reasonable restrictions”.

At a meeting with Left leaders after the apex court order, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had suggested amending the article. The amendment would require approval of two-thirds of Parliament. The government has two other options ' a separate bill or a clause in a bill it has drawn up to control private colleges.

“Nothing is sacrosanct,” Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma said on today’s criticism from the court. “Court rulings are overturned. Court orders cannot gag parliamentarians who are people’s representatives.”

Sharma said his party does not have a view of its own. “We head the UPA government. There will be a collective opinion on the matter.”

Law minister H.R. Bhardwaj was, however, upset with Arjun Singh for publicly saying that the Centre would enact a law to bring quotas back in private institutions. He said it was a “delicate” issue and the minister should not have made public the government’s intention without cabinet approval.

At a news conference last week where he had announced today’s meeting, Arjun Singh had said the Centre would explore legislative possibilities to bring back seat quotas. The minister, however, said the government did not want a confrontation with the judiciary.

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